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cyppok
03 Nov 11,, 10:41
I am sure there was a low simmering war going on between the powers in charge and the ethno-religious opponents for some time now. Perhaps it will intensify due to wrapping up of Iraq/Afghan focus that is on the horizon. The militants that were urged to put pressure on external threats be they India or U.S. will up the ante against the Pakistan government it seems.
Asia Times Online :: Khyber's new fanatical face under attack (http://atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/MK02Df01.html)


Khyber's new fanatical face under attack
By Amir Mir

ISLAMABAD - Haji Mangal Bagh Afridi, a former bus driver turned militant and the supreme commander of an Islamic militia called the Lashkar-e-Islam, is the new face of fanaticism in Khyber Agency, one of the seven Pashtun-dominated tribal districts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border where the Taliban and other such militants have continued to challenge the authority of the Pakistani government for control since 2004.

Khyber Agency is undergoing a massive military operation to clear the Bagh-led militia from its base near the northwestern city of Peshawar and the main North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supply route to Afghanistan. Bagh's stronghold, the market town of Bara in Khyber Agency, is barely 20 minutes drive from the city center of the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The military operation, launched on October 21, a day after Lashkar-e-Islam militants ambushed an army convoy, initially targeted two villages southwest of Peshawar and has now expanded to five localities in Khyber Agency.

As many as 18,000 people have already fled the military offensive, with over 1,500 families already registered in the Jalozai refugee camp, east of Peshawar.

The military-militant warfare in Khyber Agency is the most recent eruption of a seven-year-old rebellion led by Bagh, whose private army has threatened security in Peshawar and attacked supply convoys carrying supplies for US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan on the highway that runs from Peshawar and across the Khyber Pass border to Afghanistan.

The Khyber Pass has for centuries been an important trade route, while Khyber Agency is considered to be the lifeline for NATO soldiers in Afghanistan. Dozens of oil tankers and containers carrying loads of food, equipment and fuel wind through the Khyber Pass daily to the bustling Torkham border crossing into Afghanistan. Bagh has the ability to cut off the vital NATO supply routes.

The 38-kilometer stretch of the treacherous Pak-Afghan Highway winding through the fabled Khyber Pass is the most perilous part of the journey for the tankers and trucks carrying supplies for the US-led NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Despite the fact that paramilitary Frontier Corps and the Khyber Khasadar Force (tribal police) have surveillance posts on top of almost every rugged mountain, Lashkar militants manage frequent attacks on the supply lines because around-the clock monitoring of the road from the Khyber Pass to Torkhum border is impossible.


It gets better the interesting thing if you read into it the contention is one of control over the area and the exercise of that control and this guy in essence does not care about areas outside his backyard. In a sense he is vying for control at expense of the regular Pakistani government institutions.


The timing of the ongoing Pakistani military operation against the Lashkar mafia conspicuously coincides with that of the NATO-led fresh military offensive at the Afghan side of the border in Khost.

According to well-informed circles in Pakistani security agencies, the military offensives in Khyber and Khost should be seen in the context of an informal agreement reached out by the Pakistani and American military commanders when they met in Islamabad recently during US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's high-profile visit.

Pakistan and US military and intelligence chiefs held separate meetings and eventually agreed on enhanced intelligence cooperation between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for information sharing that could lead to effective military operations against the Taliban-sponsored militancy on the Af-Pak border.

Pakistan military action has so far left dozens of people killed (although locals claim over 200 deaths), destroyed over 50 villages and displaced more than 18,000 residents of Khyber Agency. However, Bagh and his fighters are not ready to release their hold, especially in the Bara area, and continue to meet Pakistani security forces with tough resistance.

With his longish hair and bushy beard, the 38-year old slightly-built Mangal Bagh looks like a tailor made militant. He is the successor of Mufti Munir Shakir, a Sunni Deobandi cleric who established an illegal radio ministry in Khyber Agency in 2004 after being ejected from Kurram Agency by the tribal elders for inciting sectarian hostility.

Munir Shakir turned over his radio station to Bagh, who at that time was a bus driver but decided to form the Lashkar-e-Islam, which means the Army of Islam. His militia fought the rival Ansarul Islam, led by Pir Saifur Rehman. By the time a ceasefire brokered by Afghan Taliban leader Ustad Yasir ended the warfare, the Lashkar had already emerged stronger than Ansarul Ansar.

The Lashkar first raised concerns during the Pervez Musharraf regime, when it began making forays into Peshawar to impose its Taliban-style traditions. The henchmen of Bagh, who belongs to the Afridi tribe of Khyber Agency, started abducting people and ransacking music and video shops, besides ordering barbers to stop shaving men's beards in accordance with hardline Taliban edicts.

Coming from a modest background, Bagh eventually established himself as an anti-feudal and pro-people commander who would rob the rich to pay the poor. His swift rise and his quick success in setting up a parallel administration in Khyber - and the freedom with which his private army challenged the writ of the state - made Pakistani military authorities launch an enormous offensive in the middle of 2008, before the general election, in which Bagh's home in Bara was blown up, forcing him to leave the area.

On January 3, 2008, in a mammoth public gathering of more than 65,000 people at Mandi Kas Ground in Khyber Agency, the Lashkar-e-Islam chief administered an oath on the holy Koran to candidates nominated to contest Khyber Agency's 46 seats in the National Assembly elections, making them swear they would not sign any un-Islamic bill if elected.

After the oath-taking ceremony, Bagh warned that the respective tribes of the candidates would stand responsible if the oath was violated.

Bagh's meteoric rise as the modern-day Robin Hood holds a curious mix of contradictions. He has decried the Pakistani Taliban yet seeks to enforce a similar system of Islamic sharia law, and has suppressed crime and drugs within his area of influence while at the same time collecting jazia, or protection money, from minority communities living in Khyber.

Members of the Sikh, Hindu and Christian communities are under directions by Bagh to keep paying the jazia tax in exchange for their security. The tax on non-Muslim residents of Khyber Agency had been imposed at the rate of 1,000 rupees (nearly US$12) per year per person.

Around 10,000 Sikhs, Hindus and Christians live in Khyber Agency, of which about 7,000 are Sikhs, many of whom own businesses or farms. Although Bagh claims to be illiterate, he can read Urdu newspapers and applications made by people seeking his intervention to resolve their problems. His nightly lectures on his illegal FM radio channel are keenly listened to by his followers.

Despite seeking the implementation of sharia law, Bagh isn't aligned to the Pakistani Taliban. Although Bagh is opposed to the US presence in Afghanistan, just like the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistan Taliban - TTP), he has already rejected several offers to join hands with the TTP, which rules other parts of the country's wild northwestern border, especially the North and South Waziristan agencies.

A traditional jirga (tribal meeting) was held between Lashkar-e-Islam and the TTP in February to discuss the possibility of Mangal Bagh joining hands with the Hakeemullah Mehsud-led TTP. But Bagh was quoted later by a local newspaper as saying: "I told the Taliban that what I am doing is enough. It is in the right direction. And I told them that there is no need to join you. The Pakistan Taliban consists of religious scholars. We are fighters for Islam, lay people. We don't have any religious figures in our organization."

Going by Bagh's claims, his Lashkar-e-Islam has 120,000 armed men who control almost all of Khyber Agency except parts of Jamrud and Maidan areas of the Tirah Valley. "All I have to do is to make an announcement on our FM radio channel and my mujahideen volunteers would be ready to fight for the Lashkar-e-Islam. We have about 70 pick-up trucks donated by pious and wealthy tribesmen for use of our men," Bagh told The News in an interview on May 11, 2008.

Asked during the same interview to explain the Lashkar-e-Islam's objectives, Bagh said: "Ours is a reformist organization trying to promote virtue and prevent vice. We rid Bara of drug-traffickers, gamblers, kidnappers, car-snatchers and other criminals and we want to cleanse Jamrud and all of Peshawar of those selling drugs and liquor and running gambling dens."

At the same time, however, the growing threat Bagh poses to the state authority can be gauged from the fact that around 1,000 Khasadar personnel stopped performing duties recently after he made a threatening speech, asking them to quit the job or face consequences.

Speaking on his FM radio channel following the launching of the ongoing military operation in Khyber Agency, the Lashkar-e-Islam chief warned that anyone from the tribal police who continued performing duties would be fined one million rupees and his house would also be demolished.

Terrorism experts believe that Bagh could become yet another dilemma for the Pakistani security forces, just like Maulana Fazlullah aka Mullah Radio (whose fighters have regrouped after defeat in Swat Valley and are now operating from their sanctuaries in Afghanistan).That is why the military authorities are seeking to uproot the Lashkar-e-Islam's vast jihadi infrastructure in Khyber Agency from top to bottom.

Amir Mir is a senior Pakistani journalist and the author of several books on the subject of militant Islam and terrorism, the latest being The Bhutto murder trail: From Waziristan to GHQ.

Deltacamelately
04 Nov 11,, 10:01
Laskar-e-Islam is nothing but yet another faction of the same old Pashtun insurgency, that has been left brewing by the GoP over all these years. Nothing less than a 100% PA backed and GoP commited Counter Insurgency Operation, sustained over a period of time can quell it. And with the ISAF/NATO forces withdrawing post 2014, one has very little hope of any kind of tranquility in Pakistan's North West.

Double Edge
04 Nov 11,, 16:11
I am sure there was a low simmering war going on between the powers in charge and the ethno-religious opponents for some time now. Perhaps it will intensify due to wrapping up of Iraq/Afghan focus that is on the horizon. The militants that were urged to put pressure on external threats be they India or U.S. will up the ante against the Pakistan government it seems.
Who will then pit them against each other in a turf war ?

The last ten years has been good for creating these outfits but once the unrest dies down they will have to consolidate.